LAS VEGAS Connectivity is the theme of this year's Consumer Electronics Show, said a beaming Bill Gates in a Sunday keynote. The soon-to-retire chief software architect unveiled a handful of Microsoft products, features and partnerships aimed at making deeper inroads into the digital home and car.
New products such as Microsoft Auto and Windows Home Server got warm applause from a packed crowd at the Venetian Hotel here. However, Microsoft is more a fast follower than a leader with many of the initiatives, chasing the likes of the Apple iPod and Sony Playstation.
Gates announced Ford Motor Co. has developed an application based on Microsoft Auto called Synch, a voice-activated program for controlling a wide range of cellphones, storage devices and MP3 players including the Microsoft Zune and Apple iPod. Sync enables users to dial calls and synchronize address books by voice commands and have text messages read out over a car audio system.
Ford plans to use Sync in 12 of its car models starting in the second half of 2007 and in all its cars and trucks by the 2009 model year. Microsoft released few details about its underlying car software.
Apple announced two years ago plans to integrate its iPod with cars from Mercedes-Benz USA, Volvo, Nissan, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari. IBM has also worked with many car makers to deliver software that links entertainment and navigation systems.
Gates also unveiled Windows Home Server, software to manage a hard-disk based consumer storage device. Users can add hard drives as needed to the device which can manage more than a terabyte of data. Windows Home Server automatically backs up home PCs and can be remotely accessed via a Windows Live account.
Hewlett-Packard will ship a system it calls the HP Media Smart Server using the software in the second half of 2007. In addition, AMD, Inventec Corp. and Quanta Computer Inc. will demonstrate hardware reference designs for Windows Home Server.
The product marks Microsoft's first entry into a space which has grown rapidly over the past year. Hard drive makers such as Seagate and gateway companies such as Netgear have dominated the category to date.
In another move aimed to deepen its penetration into the digital home, Microsoft said its Xbox 360 will be available as a set-top box for phone companies deploying Internet Protocol TV systems. IPTV services will be available on the Xbox 360 by the end of 2007 based on an upcoming version of the Microsoft TV IPTV Edition software platform.
Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment division, said the company sold 10.4 million Xbox 360 consoles as of the end of 2006. Microsoft aims to surpass Sony's success with the Playstation.
Bach claimed the company's new Zune MP3 player, launched late last year, is now second in market share to the iPod. "We are deeply committed to be successful in this market and you will see us in a leadership position in years to come," he said.